Zvi Spivack is a shark in the world of finance, a father of two daughters and a son, and a master home chef — who only cooks kosher food.
“My favorite thing to do is look up a totally non-kosher recipe and figure out how to make it kosher,” says Spivack, 41, a Beth Tfiloh congregant. “For example, I make beef bacon instead of pork bacon, and while the ingredients are different, the process is the same. I’ve never been creative in anything else — except in the kitchen.”
Spivack, who specializes in smoking meats in the backyard of his Owings Mills residence, will soon have a chance to show off his culinary creativity at the first annual Charm City Kosher Cooking Competition.
The event will take place on Feb. 25, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Cheder Chabad of Baltimore. It serves as a fundraiser for the Lubavitch K-8th day school of approximately 200 students, which is located at 5713 Park Heights Ave at the former site of Beth Jacob Synagogue.
“We are at a time where kosher cooking is no longer just kugel, cholent and gefilte fish,” says Spivack. “We have more options in terms of kosher ingredients, and chefs are pushing the limits with meats and gluten-free baking. We are at a point where we can be imaginative with kosher cooking.”
The competition is modeled after the popular Food Network show “Chopped,” in which competitors have to cook dishes using mystery ingredients. The winner of the local competition will receive a free kitchen remodel, a prize valued at $20,000, donated by RPS Remodeling and Elle Kitchen and Bath Design Center.
“This is a fun way to raise money,” says Rivka Slatkin, organizer of the competition and a Cheder Chabad parent. “It’s also an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to gather around food, whether or not they have experience with kosher cooking.”
More than 30 people are expected to compete in the two-round competition, in which contestants will have a half-hour per round to create a cohesive meal out of all the kosher ingredients provided to them in a mystery basket.
Local chef Daniel Newman — characterized by Slatkin as a “revolutionary in the world of kosher cooking”— will assemble the mystery baskets of ingredients.
“I’ve never seen a competition like this done on such a large scale, with 30 or 40 people,” says Newman, who helped open Serengeti, a kosher steakhouse in Pikesville, and now runs his own catering/food service company called Chef On Call. “I’m most excited to see how they will take the mystery ingredients and present them on the plate.”
To participate in the competition, single contestants had to raise $750; a team of four had to raise $2,500. Tickets for the competition cost $54 and include a buffet dinner, drinks and a seat to watch the competition. All proceeds collected go to Cheder Chabad’s scholarship fund.
“Our school has just over 200 students, and 60 percent of those students have some sort of scholarship,” says Rabbi Avrohom Wolowik, executive director at Cheder Chabad. “Every penny from this competition is going toward our scholarship fund so we are able to make education more affordable to our students. We are touched that so many local businesses have stepped up to sponsor parts of this event, which helps keep costs down.”
Pariser’s Bakery, Seasons kosher supermarket in Pikesville, the Knish Shop, Shoppers and Tulkoff Food Products are some of the local businesses participating in the event.
“This is not only an opportunity for Jews to gather around food and have a good time,” says Slatkin, 37, a mother of five and self-described foodie. “I also wanted to make this a benefit for small businesses because they are the backbone of our local economy.”
Besides the businesses, local foodies will serve as judges in the competition. Some of those judges include Ari Brownstein of Fazzini’s Taverna in Cockeysville, food critic Dara Bunjon, Jon Kaplan of Mosaic Catering, Stephanie Hershkovitz of Hersh’s Italian Restaurant in South Baltimore, Bracha Shor of Sweet and Good Catering, and Jeremy Silver from Rouge Fine Catering in Hunt Valley.
“We are really excited that the 12 judges who are coming together are from kosher and non-kosher restaurants, bloggers and catering companies,” Slatkin says. “When else does kosher and non-kosher have an opportunity to come together like this?”
Showing off Baltimore’s Jewish community while enjoying great food and company is one of the many reasons Slatkin says she is looking forward to the competition.
“There is a lot of pride in Charm City, from Natty Boh to Old Bay,” says Slatkin. “I’m having a lot of fun combining ingredients that represent Maryland and Charm City pride with Jewish pride.”
For inspiration and other recipe ideas, visit our Virtual Cookbook.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.